I regularly encounter the belief that “if I learn Krav Maga it will make me really aggressive, because it’s just about going crazy and fighting.” Not exactly. While aggression and an understanding of how fights work are components of learning Krav Maga, these in themselves are NOT Krav Maga. Remember, Imi Licthendfeld, the founder of “modern” Krav Maga, when asked what its purpose was, said “so one may walk in peace.” Does this sound like the words of someone who wanted people running around being aggressive and messing people up? I think not.
While you certainly cannot learn Krav Maga without learning to attack with purpose and aggresion, if you think you are always going to walk into a Krav Maga class and go 100%, trying to kill each other, you are completely wrong and probably need to spend less time on the internet (or get better sources).
More accurately, Krav Maga teaches you to understand, and respect, the reality of violence, with the additional understanding that times change and so do people. Especially in a modern world in which laws matter and cameras matter, making self-defence more complicated, you need to have a more holistic approach to your Krav Maga.
So let’s expand.
Yes, being aggressive is a fundamental of Krav Maga. However, we aren’t talking about aggression in personality or attitude in everyday life, what we mean is, when forced to, you must attack with everything you have in order to overwhelm the threat, and you don’t stop until the threat is stopped. Though it probably isn’t the original expression Kravists used, we like to sum it up as “crazy beats big.” Or rather, the person willing to do greater violence with greater ferocity (while applying wise tactics) is most likely to win any given fight. We also have to remember that Krav Maga came out of a need for survival in a literal life or death situation. Of course, if you are in a life or death situation with another human then, by all means, have at it; be as aggressive and as violent as you need until the threat is stopped, even if that, unfortunately, means lethal force.
The thing is, unless you are in such a situation (ideally avoided via the first two stages of self-defence), then being so aggressive that they die is going to result in dire consequences legally, emotionally, socially, etc.. The days of going full on in all situations are basically over in most places (at least in the Western World) and the reason is simple: Accountability.
How so? As one of my many teachers Amit Himelstein of IKF said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Guys, it’s the 21st century, Krav Maga can’t be about being insanely aggressive anymore; everyone has cameras or there are cameras everywhere.”
This means that if you are overzealous in your violence somebody probably saw it or it was filmed. Best case scenario it’s on YouTube, worst case scenario you are in jail for the rest of your life (or worse depending on where you are).
The reality is our modern societies have modern laws and modern social standards.
Let’s take Canada for example, our self-defence laws are as such that you may employ “equal force” in the moment to stop a threat. Now, in theory this is simple, but, in practice, when looking at the results in a range of court cases, you might as well flip a coin. Cases I thought were clearly self-defence ended in a guilty verdict, and cases I deemed aggravated assault were came out not guilty.
The truth is the jury process really isn’t about peers, it’s simply about citizens, who, on average, are not experts on use of force and have little understanding of how violence works. That is, sometimes you need to be more violent than onlookers may think; because they aren’t the target of the threat itself and therefore cannot feel the actions or resistance of the aggressor, or grasp what’s going on for you internally.
It means that, in reality, you actually need to be very careful how much force and aggression you use, which can be quite difficult without significant training.
If your default is always be super aggressive and destroy the attacker, (especially for men, even more so larger men) you may find yourself regularly on the wrong side of the law. Even if you, and others, feel you were in the right, based on actual knowledge of use of force and self-defence.
I am going to tell a story about an “alleged” student I once had: They came in and were quite aggressive, to the point that all the instructors and students complained. I asked this student about it and they told me “but Krav Maga is all about aggression and that if they weren’t being aggressive in class then it wasn’t Krav Maga.” This individual is the only person I can recall to whom I’ve had to give a written warning and probation (most people who don’t fit the style of the school just leave on their own.) I told them they had to train safely or they would be out. They kind of disappeared until the probation period was over and came back thinking it was lifted. I guess they didn’t understand how it worked. From what I’ve heard they ended up bouncing around a few Krav Maga schools that I know. One day I got a visit from one of the more serious police squads. It seems this individual may have not have gotten the hint, or may have just been a psycho, and may have stabbed someone a few years later. They claimed they learned it all in Krav Maga and that I taught them to be super aggressive. This claim, of course, was false; they were just unstable and were looking for somewhere to be violent. Which is not Krav Maga, and is certainly not “learning to walk in peace.”
While some people (psychos aside) thrive on aggressive, hard training, and only want to do Krav Maga if it is this, I must constantly remind people that this, in itself, is not Krav Maga, but rather an aspect of it.
If you only want to train because it’s hard, aggressive, and you get to go crazy, then you may in fact be missing the point.
Krav Maga is truly about learning to walk in peace, knowing you are capable of violence, if you must, but that you would rather not, in true warrior fashion. Warriors of old knew this because, once upon a time, it was always life or death, and the wrong encounter would mean your death not theirs. Or worse, a crippling injury with no medical system, which meant your family starved and you died anyway. This, perhaps, is a lesson we have lost, since it’s not all about life or death anymore, but it is one we must never forget.
So, whether it’s because our laws keep us in check, or because the wrong fight means death, just know that aggression is only one part of Krav Maga. It is meant as a tool to counter someone else’s extreme violence, not a state of being or a default.
Use your aggression along with your strategy, your technique, and your control, all while trying to avoid conflict altogether. But know that when fire meets fire, you may have to go full flame on. BUT ONLY IF YOU MUST.
Ask yourself, are you learning to be aggressive and go ham in Krav Maga, or are you actually really learning to walk in peace as Krav Maga was originally intended for?
Written by: Jonathan Fader